Whither Korea?

Monotreme's Uncle Jimmy

In one of the comments threads below, I discovered I have something in common with one of our regular commenters: I have a particular interest in the Korean War.

I won’t speculate on the interest of others, but my particular interest was likely sparked by my grandfather, a Merchant Marine veteran, who sent his two sons off to war. My uncle, the older, was born in 1924, and served as an Army T/5 in the Battle of the Bulge. His younger brother barely saw WWII service. He was a Lt(j.g.) on the USS Tripoli (CVE-64), which was sailing through the Panama Canal on the way to the Pacific Theater when V-J Day was declared. Indirectly, that was a lucky break for me, because he survived to become my father.

After the war, both brothers attended college on the GI Bill. My father was apparently the better student. He stayed in school. My uncle Jimmy flunked out and was caught up in the Korean War draft. He re-entered the Army Infantry as a Lieutenant.

My grandfather had made a note in the family genealogy in his characteristic neat hand:

1st Lt. W. War III

Last heard of Korea 12/21/51

My grandfather was not given to open displays of emotion, but I often wondered what it was like receiving a Christmas telegram telling you your son was missing in action.

According to family legend, the men in his unit (2nd Div, 9th Reg, Co F) became involved in a fierce firefight in the vicinity of Kumhwa, very close to the 38th parallel and the front line/armistice line. The Division was at that time harrassing the Chinese forces massed along the still-shaky armistice line. One man said he saw my uncle shot; another said he saw him taken prisoner. Because of this uncertainty, he was not declared dead until he failed to return after the end of hostilities in 1953.

He is still officially MIA. I have been in contact with the Army, who have been quite open and professional the whole way. I am promised that they will contact me if his remains are ever repatriated.

Because my family’s blood is spilled in Korea, I have a personal interest in the outcome of hostilities there. Korea has been an insoluble problem for American Presidents and diplomats for 60 years.

Why the current provocation? Both Former Ambassador Donald Gregg and former President Jimmy Carter have speculated that North Korea is bargaining for bilateral US-North Korea talks. In this construction, Kim Jong-Il (and his son, Real Lee-Il, tip o’ the hat to David Letterman for that one) figure the South are our puppets, so they would rather eliminate all middlemen and dicker with us directly.

I’m no expert, but my read of this is that the Chinese would never stand for it. Ever since MacArthur accidentally dropped bombs on the wrong side of the Yalu, the Chinese have propped up the North, first with military force and then with vigorous diplomacy.

As I see it, the next move belongs to the Chinese. They, of course, share a border with North Korea. If someone pulls the trigger — the US, the Japanese, the South — the chances are good that the Chinese will be dealing with a refugee crisis of massive proportions. Most of the world is waiting for the Chinese to make a move.

What can the US do? What should the US do? Are we militarily strong enough to open a third front? Another complication, as I see it, is that a US withdrawal from Central Asia combined with North Korean “success” at upsetting the status quo would embolden the Iranians to ramp up their own nuclear ambitions.

About Monotreme

Monotreme is an unabashedly liberal dog lover, writer, and former scientist who now teaches at a University in an almost-square state out West somewhere. http://www.logarchism.com | http://www.sevendeadlysynapses.com
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14 Responses to Whither Korea?

  1. robert verdi says:

    its more complicated then MacArthur dropping bombs, Mao was itching for a fight and here was his enemy only a stones throw off the Yalu. As for now, its a peninsula so send in the Navy and bolster the ground forces, if war breaks out leave the bulk to the South Koreans, its their nation and their brothers and sisters.
    My sympathy to your families loss.

  2. Monotreme says:

    True enough, Robert. Still, MacArthur was no diplomat.

  3. robert verdi says:

    indeed and he was rightly fired for his insubordination with the c@c.

  4. Bart DePalma says:

    Why the current provocation?

    North Korea is a gangster regime. This is a shakedown for protection.

    The questions are whether we will pay the protection and, if not, why we are not working to depose the gangster regime?

  5. Why aren’t we working to depose the gangster regime?

    I figure it’s because we are out of economic options and, given how close Seoul is to the border, first-strike military options are pretty much out of the question.

    Or do you have another option that nobody else has thought of?

    Incidentally, are you in favor of deposing the regime?

  6. shortchain says:

    I’d imagine the vast majority of people in the world are in favor of working to depose the Kim regime. The problem is how. They are, after all, supported by one of the world’s powers, with a seat on the Security Council, so operation through the UN is limited. Economic sanctions against a regime that basically operates entirely on the black market is kind of pointless. Not to mention that a regime that has no problem starving its citizens isn’t going to be swayed by economic hardship.

    So military options are off the table, other than a little saber-rattling, which has never worked in the past and can’t be expected to work now. Economic options are off the table as well. We could, I suppose, pray them into compliance, but I’d rate the probability of success there as 0.00000000001.

    Anybody got any other ideas?

  7. filistro says:


    We could always go with Sarah Palin, who warned us all yesterday that we “gotta stand with our North Korean allies.”

    Now, this could probably be excused as simple gaffe except for this rather troubling quote from the book “Game Change” by Heilemann and Halperin about the 2008 election:

    * In the days leading up to an interview with ABC News’ Charlie Gibson, aides were worried with Ms. Palin’s grasp of facts. She couldn’t explain why North and South Korea were separate nations and she did not know what the Federal Reserve did. She also said she believed Saddam Hussein attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

  8. Bart DePalma says:

    Michael Weiss says:

    BD: Why aren’t we working to depose the gangster regime?

    I figure it’s because we are out of economic options and, given how close Seoul is to the border, first-strike military options are pretty much out of the question.

    I agree with the latter, but not the former.

    One of the keys in bringing down the USSR was working with other countries and operating covertly to cut off subsidies and technological transfers to the communist regime and to actively sabotage its home economy.

    The key here is China.

    China keeps the North Korean regime afloat with oil and food. Cut off the Chinese subsidy and North Korea falls.

    We need to convince China that it is in their economic interests to ally with us to depose the North Korean regime and replace it with something more stable, perhaps with an understanding that North Korea is under the Chinese sphere of influence.

    To start, we need to get our fiscal house in order and stop borrowing from China so they have no leverage over us.

    Next, if the Chinese insist on maintaining North Korea as a thorn in our side, there are a wide variety of official and unofficial measures we can take to harm their export economy. If their goods start stacking up on the docks awaiting harassment inspections, perhaps they might begin to see the wisdom of cutting way back on their oil and food exports to North Korea.

    We can also offer various economic or prestige carrots to China as Reagan did with the Saudis to get them to increase oil production and slash the USSR’s energy export income.

    There is also the possibility of attacking the NK economy directly by allowing them to steal technology with trojan horse viruses that will attack the technology when installed. The CIA allowed the KGB to steal some trojan horse technology for oil and gas extraction and then launched a cyber attack which blew up one of the Russian trans Siberian gas lines.

    Our options are only limited by a lack of will and imagination.

  9. shortchain says:


    Since North Korea is already completely within China’s sphere of influence, why should they take a chance on regime change?

    It is beyond laughable to imagine, as you do, that the corporate lackeys in Washington, both Democratic but even more especially GOP politicians, will tell the American people to stop buying the products they produce in China for sale in the USA. Like corporate America will go along with reducing their profits for the sake of a pie-in-the-sky Korean solution.

    I love the specificity of your suggestions: “various economic or prestige carrots”.

    And as for insinuating trojan horses into NK — you simply cannot be serious. You imagine that everybody failed to notice that and would be susceptible to it a second time? Please note that more recent efforts, like the stuxnet worm, didn’t seem to be very effective on their primary target. The sad fact is that cyberwar is far more effective on an open society running Windows than on one that has few or no conduits to the outside world.

    Our options are limited by the way the world works, and no amount of will is going to change that anytime soon, no matter what your febrile imagination thinks.

  10. Bart DePalma says:

    Michael asked why aren’t we working to depose the gangster regime.

    Our foreign policy bureaucracy is filled with folks like shortchain who are far better at finding reasons to fail than to deal with the problems at hand.

  11. Monotreme says:

    It’s good to know men like Gen. MacArthur are still around. Like Gen. MacArthur, I guess Bart has some suggestions for reducing our nuclear arsenal. Literally.

  12. shortchain says:


    When trying to solve problems, it is best to understand which problems are difficult. Otherwise, one runs the risk of simply wasting one’s time trying to apply a simple fix to a complex problem and making the situation worse.

    Since the problem of Korea has been ongoing for fifty years, one can assume that it is a difficult problem. How are we, then, to take your laughably naive suggestions as anything but the prattling of a fool?

  13. Monotreme says:

    “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” — Abraham Maslow

    Or, if the only tool you know how to use is a hammer, the same principle applies. No wrenches need apply.

  14. Monotreme says:

    I woke up this morning with a thought on Korea.

    Now, let me preface this by saying that I don’t presume any special knowledge of diplomacy.

    It seems to me that the Chinese aren’t tremendously happy to share a border with the North Koreans, and that their worries about a humanitarian crisis overwhelm their diplomacy. At the same time, the Chinese want to be respected by the United States as the world power they almost certainly are.

    What if China and the U.S. and our major regional partners were to engage in a “backdoor”, silent effort to manage the humanitarian crisis that will ensue when North Korea falls? For example, it’s almost a given that the world (especially the U.S.) has enough food; what is lacking is an effective distribution system. What if there were plans for such a distribution system?

    Once that puzzle piece is set, then the U.S. and China could agree to look the other way as South Korea tips over the domino, collapsing the North.

    Whatever happens, it’s going to make the economic and political crisis precipitated by the fall of East Germany look small in comparison.

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